Sicily UNESCO sites is a vast subject. Many of the most important cultural sites of Sicily have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, which is not the only list created by UNESCO, although it is undoubtedly the most known one. When it comes to UNESCO World Heritage sites, Sicily is among the regions of Italy that can count the highest number of UNESCO sites, not only in the World Heritage List but even in some other very interesting ones. Are you curious to know which are other less-known Sicily UNESCO sites? Then, keep on reading!
Sicily UNESCO sites: World Heritage List, UNESCO Global Geoparks and Intangible Cultural Heritage
The first Sicily UNESCO sites to be included in the renowned World Heritage List were the Temples Valley of Agrigento and the Villa Romana del Casale of Piazza Armerina, both in 1997. While the Temples Valley –undoubtedly the most famous Sicilian archaeological site, as well as the biggest archaeological park in the world- can make us travel to the ancient Greece without leaving our beautiful island, the Villa Romana del Casale takes us back to when Sicily was the “granary of the Roman Empire”.
Here the patricians used to build their sumptuous villas decorated with fine and magnificent mosaics in the middle of the Sicilian countryside, in order to have a better control of their estates. In 2000 it was the turn of the Aeolian Islands that, as Mount Etna in 2013, were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their importance in volcanology studies. In 2002 also Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, along with the Late-Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto became Sicily UNESCO sites, while the most recent Sicilian element in the List is the Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale.
Sicily UNESCO sites are often very popular not always because of their recognition, but because of their historic, cultural and/or natural relevance. Moreover, when UNESCO decides to inscribe a property in the World Heritage List, it is because of its outstanding universal value, not just because of a mere architectural or natural beauty. That’s why there are some other less-known lists that include many other UNESCO sites and elements equally able to enchant and amaze:
Intangible Cultural Heritage
The Intangible Cultural Heritage List is the second most known one after the World Heritage List, and it includes all those artistic, folkloric and traditional elements of a country that need to be protected from a growing globalization. Some elements can share their recognition with different regions of the same country, some even with different nations –such as for the Mediterranean diet, recognition shared among Italy, Croatia, Spain, France, Greece, Morocco, Cyprus and Portugal.
Among the Sicilian Intangible Cultural Heritage also valid for all Italy there are the art of dry stone walling, the transhumance and the celebrations of big shoulder-borne processional structures. However there are a couple of elements that are recognized only for Sicily: the Sicilian Puppet Theatre and the traditional agricultural practice of cultivating the ‘vite ad alberello’ (head-trained bush vines) of the community of Pantelleria.
UNESCO Global Geopark: Madonie park and Rocca di Cerere Geopark
When it comes to Sicily UNESCO sites few people known the two Sicilian UNESCO Global Geoparks: the Madonie Park near Palermo and the Rocca di Cerere Geopark in Enna, located in the Sicilian inland. Literally a UNESCO Global Geopark is a “geographical area of geological relevance” created in order to protect the site and to provide education and sustainable development for the community.
By its very nature, a Unesco Global Geopark is an en-plain-air field of study, not only for scientists and researchers analysing geological and natural phenomena, but also for students and school-age kids who can discover the nature out of classrooms. Very often in these areas it happens to find also some anthropic traces, testifying how men in the past has perfectly merged and lived with nature.
The Madonie Park was set up in 1987, but it entered the list of Sicily UNESCO sites as a UNESCO Global Geopark only in 2015. It covers an area of 40.000 ha, in the middle of the Sicilian Apennines and it is bordered by the Imera and Pollina river, which also separates it from the near Nebrodi Park.
The Madonie park is the perfect place where to get lost and find yourself again in nature: there are more or less 300 km of trails to explore through waterways, woods, grasslands and karst caves, not to mention that the Madonie UNESCO Global Geopark has the highest picks of Sicily after Mount Etna, such as “Pizzo Carbonara”, 1978 mt high. More than 10 villages and little towns fall within the territory of the Madonie Park, such as Petralia Soprana, Petralia Sottana and Cefalù -this last one is already included in the list of Sicily UNESCO sites with the city of Palermo and Monreale Cathedral.
These precious villages are the custodians of a huge cultural and artistic heritage, made of watermills, manors, museums, hidden monasteries, rocky churches and ruins of abbeys, as the ruins of the St. George Abbey in the middle of an oak wood. In order to testify the close connection between the historical-cultural and the geological heritage, the so-called geological-urban trails have been created, as the one of Petralia Sottana.
This one leads you to the discovery of shellfish fossil remains, crustacean and corals, visible in the stones of bulidings, on sidewalks and even on the columns of the cathedral: so that simply walking through the historical centre it can happen to walk on fossil remains!
The Rocca di Cerere UNESCO Global Geopark among other Sicily UNESCO sites is maybe the less known. It covers a surface of 1298 km2 including 9 municipalities, the archaeological site of Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina -one of the Sicily UNESCO sites from the World Heritage List– and the archaeological remains of the Greek polis of Morgantina.
This UNESCO Global Geopark has been named after the large Ceres Rock, standing in the highest point of Enna city, the geographic center of Sicily, with a beautiful panoramic view above the Erei Mounts and Mount Etna. Here in the past there was a temple dedicated to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. 10 km away from Enna there is the Lake of Pergusa -the only natural lake remained in Sicily- where according to the mythology the Rape of Proserpina took place. As the Madonie Park, even the Rocca di Cerere is among the Sicily UNESCO sites worth seeing because it keeps more than 150 archaeological sites, such as several necropolis and rocky villages.
The two necropolis of Realmese and Malpasso in Calascibetta, for example, are not well known as it is the rocky Necropolis of Pantalica in Syracuse (which is included in the Sicily UNESCO sites of the World Heritage List). However, the rocky necropolis of Realmese is composed by more than 300 honeycomb burial chambers; while in the case of the necropolis of Malpasso, 5 cave tombs with various rooms and several findings dating back to 2000 BC were found.
Another extraordinary archaeological site nearby is the rocky village of Canalotto (cover picture), where there are several dwelling little caves, a rocky church on two floors, a complex system used to collect water and a millstone. Another attraction of Rocca di Cerere UNESCO Global Geopark is the Mining Park Floristella-Grottacalda, one of the most important industrial archaeological site of South Italy, active until 1986 to extract sulfur and used today for didactic purposes.
For both Sicily UNESCO sites of Madonie Park and Rocca di Cerere Geopark we can say that, beside their archaeological, geological and natural values, the cities, the villages and the little towns within their territories are authentic wealth of treasures where to find ancient castles, towers, palaces and churches magnificently decorated.
Sicily UNESCO sites in Tentative List
We saw as Sicily UNESCO sites are not limited to the ones included in the World Heritage List. However there are some elements and site that have not been included in this list yet, but that are in the UNESCO Tentative List, which means they are waiting to be officially recognized –maybe– in the future. Among these, we found the ancient Phoenician town of Mothia, on the S. Pantaleo island in the Stagnone Lagoon in front of Marsala city.
Another site which aims to become a UNESCO Global Geopark is the Argimusco Plateau with some other rocky and archaeological sites in the surroundings, that since 2018 have started the long application process to be recognized. The Argimusco Plateau is in the municipality of Montalbano Elicona, within Messina territory, and its main characteristic is the presence of huge rocks shaped by nature in an anthropomorphic and zoomorphic look, with which the Argimusco Plateau is able to interest and charm the ever-increasing public.
The medieval villages and towns in the surroudings, such as Montalbano Elicona and Novara di Sicilia, can be enjoyed with a magic weekend tour of the Sicilian villages off the beaten paths. These villages can offer many picturesque views, medieval alleys to walk back in past, genuine local food to taste and especially the very friendly welcoming of local people.
Did you already know this Sicily UNESCO sites? Are you curious to come to Sicily and discover them? If the answer is yes, check our 9 days Sicily UNESCO tour or the 6 days tour of the most beautiful eastern villages of Sicily, that includes many of the Sicily UNESCO sites mentioned before and even more. Push yourself to the Sicilian inland and gain the most hidden and secret beauties: we assure you that you won’t be disappointed!